CALIFORNIA, (KTXL) — On Tuesday, Smokey Bear will turn 78 years old after being born in the minds of personnel from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Ad Council on Aug. 9, 1944.
Smokey was created as a symbol in a joint effort to prevent forest fires and was first featured in a poster painted by Albert Staehle, one of the most popular illustrators at the time.
The poster showed Smokey pouring a bucket of water on a campfire saying, “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.”
Some may know Smokey as Smokey “the” Bear, but according to the USDA, he was only ever called that for his song as it helped with the rhythm of the tune.
In 1947, Smokey’s famous slogan “Only YOU can Prevent Forest Fire!” was coined. In 2001 the slogan was changed to “Only you can prevent wildfires”, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Smokey would come to life in 1950 when a black bear cub was saved from a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico by firefighters, according to the USDA.
The bear was then taken to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. after news of a real bear named Smokey swept across the nation.
As a living symbol, the USDA said that he was very important in playing a role in wildfire prevention and forest conservation.
In 1976, Smokey died and his body was taken back to Capitan, New Mexico where he is buried in the State Historical Park.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Smokey’s message helped reduce the average number of acres burned by wildfires each year from 22 million in 1944 to 6.6 million in 2011.
One other reason for Smokey’s slogan change was to change people’s mindset about fire, according to the forest service.
Today, Smokey wants to show people that campfires can be safe if handled correctly, but that it is still up to the public to help prevent wildfires.